Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent, 2009:
(Found in its entirety here.)
For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to focus my reflections especially on the value and meaning of fasting.**********
...We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting.
...In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who “sees in secret, and will reward you” (Mt 6,18). He Himself sets the example, answering Satan, at the end of the forty days spent in the desert that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4,4). The true fast is thus directed to eating the “true food,” which is to do the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4,34).
...In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God.
...The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord.
...At the same time, fasting is an aid to open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live. In his First Letter, Saint John admonishes: “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him – how does the love of God abide in him?” (3,17).
...Dear brothers and sisters, it is good to see how the ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us, as the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote, to make the complete gift of self to God (cf. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, 21).
As Lent approaches and we consider giving up the foods and other things we enjoy, we sometimes feel overwhelmed.
It's helpful to me (a rich American, despite my protests about the cost of the latest van repair) to consider that the things overwhelming me could be foundational:
-- In 2008, the number of undernourished people in the world rose to 963 million
-- Hunger and malnutrition are the No. 1 risk to health worldwide, greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
-- The total food surplus of the United States alone could satisfy every empty stomach in Africa; France's leftovers could feed the hungry in Democratic Republic of Congo and Italy's could feed Ethiopia's undernourished.
-- Today 25,000 people will die from hunger. A child dies every six seconds of malnutrition or starvation.
More information from:
Catholic Relief Services
CRS and Operation Rice Bowl
Kids Against Hunger
The Hunger Site
Fasting Against Global Hunger
Pope Benedict XVI on hunger, here and here.
And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me.'
-- Matthew 25:40
A reminder from Mom:
If you are a pregnant or nursing mother, or are ill, Mom (Holy Mother Church) doesn't want you to fast from nutritious meals. There are myriad ways to fast.
Take care of your physical health, and offer the things from which you must fast (sleep, time, favorite foods that affect breast milk, sanity) as your prayer and your offering. Mom knows your situation, and she not only understands, she insists that you take care of yourself so that you may take care of the gift you've been given.